Study: Humans Getting Dumber (Intermediate Evolution Lesson Plan ESL)

ESL Level: Upper-Intermediate Donate towards our web hosting bill!

Lesson Topic: The marketing success of bottled water

Skill Focus: Reading, Vocabulary, Speaking

Lesson Plan Download: Evolution-Humans-Dumber-Intermediate-22112012.doc

Approximate Class Time: Two hours

Intelligence Lesson Plan (ESL): Intermediate

Intelligence Lesson Plan (ESL): Warm-up (Pair Work)

1) Were you a bright student in your school days? What kind of student were you?
2) What are some of the greatest achievements and inventions of mankind? Make a list with your classmates.
3) In what ways, if any, are you superior to a caveman?

Study: Human Beings Getting Dumber

Given the technological advances we have witnessed in our lifetimes, it seems ridiculous to argue that humans are getting dumber. This is, however, what Stanford University researcher Gerald Crabtree has suggested. In two recently published articles, he writes:

“I would be willing to wager that if an average citizen of Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions (…) We would be surprised by our time-visitor’s memory, broad range of ideas and clear-sighted view of important issues. I would also guess that he or she would be among the most emotionally stable of our friends and colleagues.”

Crabtree’s thesis is based on the idea that our genes must be functioning at full capacity to optimize intellectual and emotional behavior. He contends that our intelligence may have peaked before our hunter-gatherer ancestors left Africa. At that time, due to selective pressures, humans evolved to have genes that maximized brainpower. Since then, selective pressures have decreased. This has made it possible for several ‘genetic mutations’ that hinder our intellectual and emotional capabilities to survive.

Despite these “two or more” harmful mutations of the past 3,000 years, Crabtree believes that technology will allow humans to compensate for these mutations in the future. “We have a long time to solve it. People 300 years ago had no idea where we’d be scientifically now,” he says. “We’ll be able to deal with this problem with a range of humane and ethical solutions.”

Critics say there is insufficient data to support Crabtree’s thesis. Others, such as psychology professor Eyal Reingold, argue that the modern-day threats to intelligence are not genetic but environment-based. These threats, rooted in our upbringing and socialization, are the cause of school bullying and children bringing guns to school, according to Reingold.

[Sources:, ]

Intelligence Lesson Plan (ESL): Comprehension & Follow-Up Questions

1)     According to Crabtree, how would an Athenian from 1000 BC differ from a modern man?
2)     What does Crabtree believe has caused this decline in intelligence?
3)     True or False: Crabtree believes the decline will continue indefinitely.
4)     Cite two criticisms of Crabtree’s thesis.

Intelligence Lesson Plan (ESL): Vocabulary Matching

Match the words with their meaning as used in the news lesson plan.

given (sth), …
wager (verb)
optimize (verb)
contend (verb)
peak (verb)
hinder (verb)
compensate for sth
rooted in sth
  • given sth = taking into account a fact, factor, etc,; considering
  • wager = bet
  • optimize = make sth as good as it can be
  • contend = say sth is true, especially in an argument
  • peak = reach the highest point
  • ancestor = a person in your family who lived before you
  • mutation = a change in genetic material
  • hinder = prevent sb from easily doing/achieving sth
  • compensate for = provide sth good to balance or reduce the bad effects of damage
  • humane = showing kindness by making sure people/animals don’t suffer unnecessarily
  • rooted in sth = developed by sth or strongly influenced by it

Intelligence Lesson Plan (ESL): Connect the below idea(s) to make a sentence.

government / uprising
given / population
wager / ancestors
optimize / performance
scientist / contend
peak / civilization
mutation / hinder
compensate / stupidity
technology / humane
problems / rooted

Intelligence Lesson Plan (ESL): Debate (Pair Work)

(Note: each student reads his/her role only.)

Student A:
Take 1-2 minutes to build an argument that supports Crabtree’s thesis. Think of examples, etc. When ready, present your ideas first.
Student B:Take 1-2 minutes to build a counterargument against Crabtree’s thesis. Think of examples, etc. The other student will go first.

Intelligence Lesson Plan (ESL): Quotations For Discussion (Pair Work)

“Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun.” – Richard Dawkins

“Stupidity combined with arrogance and a huge ego will get you a long way.” – Chris Lowe

“In the literal sense, there has been no relevant evolution since the trek from Africa. But there has been substantial progress towards higher standards of rights, justice and freedom – along with all too many illustrations of how remote is the goal of a decent society.” – Noam Chomsky

“Since when has the world of computer software design been about what people want? This is a simple question of evolution. The day is quickly coming when every knee will bow down to a silicon fist, and you will all beg your binary gods for mercy.” – Bill Gates

Intelligence Lesson Plan (ESL): Discussion Questions

1)     Nature vs. Nurture: Is intelligence rooted in genetics?
2)     Would you rather be an African hunter-gatherer, an Athenian from 1000 BC, or yourself today?
3)     Technology: Crabtree suggests that technology can compensate for genetic mutations in the future. How could this work?
4)     Are girls smarter than boys?

Intelligence Lesson Plan (ESL) copyright Matthew Barton of

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4 comments on “Study: Humans Getting Dumber (Intermediate Evolution Lesson Plan ESL)

  1. Emily (Posted on 4-20-2015 at 11:58) Reply

    Thank you!
    This is very helpful!

  2. patty (Posted on 4-18-2017 at 04:36) Reply

    Very helpful! thank you, greetings from Spain

  3. Sprachecke (Posted on 10-9-2019 at 11:12) Reply

    Used it with adult learners – it made for an interesting highly controversial lesson with lots of engaged discussion! Thanks so much!

  4. gildeta (Posted on 10-17-2019 at 15:26) Reply

    Thank you very much

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